fire alarm system

Does every building need to have a fire alarm system installed?

No one likes to play when it comes to safety, right? Generally speaking, in the event of a fire, most people will always take all necessary measures to protect themselves. The first step to ensure this protection is to have a fire alarm system installed. But, here comes the question: does your building really need to have one?

Well, the most comprehensive answer here is YES. You need to have a fire alarm system installed to ensure your safety. In a few situations, though, this protection might be optional. Check if your building needs to or should have a fire alarm system installed and stay safe. 

How do I know if my building needs to have a fire alarm system installed?

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the precondition for a building to have a fire alarm system installed is related to its occupancy and hazard of contents.

The type of activities performed inside a building, the number of people involved in such activities and the risk involved are directly related to how a fire might occur. So, such characteristics should be counted in when determining the type of protection you need.

The classification of every building relates to the occupancy group it resembles the most. There might be cases, though, where a place would fit into more than one category. The complete list of Classification Occupancy and Hazard of Contents can be found in NFPA’s 101 Life Safety Code (2018). Below, we cover the most typical types of constructions.

Residential buildings

This category includes all properties where the primary purpose is to provide sleeping accommodation, besides other functionalities. Therefore, under this occupancy group, we have:

  • one and two-family dwelling units;
  • lodging or rooming houses;
  • hotels;
  • dormitories;
  • and apartment buildings.

Family dwelling units and lodging houses are required to have a basic fire alarm system installed. Hotels and dormitories, in turn, require a more complex fire alarm system installed. In this case, the equipment might include:

  • a manual fire alarm box,
  • an automatic sprinkler system
  • an automatic detection system 
  • and alarm annunciation units if the building meets specific criteria.

Regarding new apartment buildings, there must be a fire alarm system installed, unless they are under four stories high or have fewer than 12 dwelling units. In the same category, NFPA’s Life Safety Code also states that no fire alarm system is required if the housing units are separated by fire barriers having a minimum 1-hour fire-resistance rating. Each house also needs its independent exit, in this case.

Fire alarm system for commercial buildings

The commercial buildings category includes all office business, except the ones selling merchandise. We are talking about doctor offices, accountant offices, city halls, or any other type of office. In this category, new businesses only need a commercial fire alarm system if the construction has:

  • 3 or more stories in height;
  • more than 50 occupants above or below the level of exit discharge;
  • or 300 or more total occupants.

For existing business buildings, the number of occupants tolerance is higher.  

Shops and supermarkets

In this category, we have all businesses that store and display merchandise, like department stores or supermarkets. Here, all constructions with more than three stories or 30,00 square feet need a fire alarm system installed.

Fire alarm systems at shops and supermarkets

Due to its usual layout, in such stores, security challenges may include limited access to certain parts of the building and obstacles, besides the actual building occupancy. These are some of the reasons that lead to the necessity of a higher security level.

Restaurants, churches, and theaters

Such buildings fit in the assembly occupancy category. These include all facilities where more than 50 people gather for either deliberation, worship, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement, awaiting transportation, or similar uses. 

The obligation of a fire alarm system installed only kicks in when these buildings exceed 300 people occupancy. 

Educational or detention institutions

For schools and universities, as well as detention and correctional institutions, NFPA stands that there must be a fire alarm system installed. Some exceptions might occur for small buildings, with one classroom only, for example. 

Fire alarm systems at schools and universities

Note that any place where six or more people, up to grade 12, are taught for four hours or more a day can be considered an educational facility. 

Health-care institutions

According to NFPA Life Safety Code, places that provide medical treatment or care for four or more patients can be considered health-care institutions. The most common ones are hospitals and nursing homes.

Since such places’ purpose is to look after somebody’s health, it is evident and mandatory that these facilities have a complete fire alarm system installed.

Factories and industries fire alarm systems

It can be considered a factory or industry any place where products are manufactured, including activities such as processing, assembling, mixing, packing, finishing, decorating, or repairing. Places, where there is combustible product handling, don’t appear in this list since these require even more restrictive guidelines.

All industrial constructions need to have a fire alarm system installed if its total occupancy is 100 or higher or if it has more than 25 people above or below the level of exit discharge.

When talking about storage, all places must have an alarm system installed. The exception takes place if they have an automatic sprinkler system, contain low-hazard products or ordinary to high-hazard products inside 100,000 square feet.

If you still have questions regarding whether your building should have a fire alarm system installed and which parts you should contemplate in it, we recommend looking for the consultant of a fire installation company. They can have access to a reliable fire alarm supplier and will be able to find the perfect solution for you.

If you need any fire alarm part, you can count on JEM Security to offer you the best brands, products, and assistance in the market. Check out our products list to find exactly what you are looking for your business.


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